Security Council schedules formal meeting on Iraq for Friday morning

Security Council schedules formal meeting on Iraq for Friday morning

Following intensive closed-door consultations on a proposed draft resolution aimed at returning United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq, the United Nations Security Council this evening decided to hold a formal meeting on Friday morning to take further action on the issue.

The announcement followed days of talks marked by progressively more optimistic predictions by Council members that agreement would be reached on the text.

The President of the Security Council this morning said differences among its members were narrowing on the proposed resolution, which is cosponsored by the United States and the United Kingdom.

"The different positions of the different sides are getting closer and we have made definite progress in drafting the text," Zhang Yishan, the Deputy Permanent Representative of China, told reporters following a morning session of closed-door consultations.

"If we can compare the differences of all sides to clouds, then I can say that the clouds are getting thinner and thinner," he said. "If we continue to move along the right path we have been following over the past few days, the sunlight of unity is about to come."

Speaking of his own country's position, he said that for China, it is crucial that the Security Council "speak with one voice." Only by doing so "can we send a clear signal to Iraq."

The Council's message should include two elements: that Baghdad must comply fully and unconditionally with the relevant UN resolutions, and that the whole issue of Iraq must be solved in a fair and comprehensive manner, Ambassador Zhang said.

Hans Blix, the Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), told the press that a unanimously adopted resolution would send a stronger message than one subject to abstentions, "and in that sense would strengthen our hand."

Asked about the prospects for the return of inspectors to Iraq, Mr. Blix said, "we are confident that they will be back very soon."

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, responding to press questions earlier in the day, said that for the Council, the key issue is disarmament. "If Iraq cooperates and the inspectors can get that work done, I think the Council will be less inclined to think in terms of military action," he said.